Wild & Improbable Tales – She Came From The Water

The tap had dripped for as long as they could remember. They had heard the insistent plip, plip, plip the night they had moved in, as they lay down to sleep. It was the strangest thing, though: they could hear the drips, could see them gather and fall from the tap into the bath, but no water gathered underneath and no water fell into their hands cupped beneath the faucet, though the steady beat continued.

A stream of plumbers couldn’t fix it. No amount of twiddling the taps made it stop. They felt sure that replacing the whole bathroom would do it but as soon as the water was back on, the infernal dripping resumed.

After a time, they grew accustomed to the quiet, regular rhythm and it faded into the background of their lives.

It was with some surprise, then, that in the early hours of a November morning, many years after they had first come to live in the house, they found themselves woken by the dripping noise. They lay awake in the darkest hour of the night listening as the dripping became louder and, somehow, closer.

Shrinking together in fear, they watched, frozen, as the bedroom door opened, to reveal a young girl illuminated in the ghostly, pre-dawn light; grey skinned, blue lipped, her sodden nightgown clinging to her slight frame, she watched them, a steady drip, drip, drip falling from the water-heavy tangles of her raven hair.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wild & Improbable Tales – Bone Weary

Bone weary, she watched as the rain painted the window with its tears. The city blurred in and out of focus. Her head felt heavy and she leant her cheek upon the cool glass.

Blinking blearily, she tried to focus on the world outside. Clouds drifted in slow motion over the tired town, their eraser strokes wiping out the blue of the sky. An errant thought stumbled into her mind: she wished the rain would wash the world away – the clouds rub out the whole of the heavens.

She blinked again.

Sighing, she turned away from the melancholy view and headed back to her desk.

Unseen, the steady rainfall began to wash away more than just the dust and grime of the city streets; first the tower blocks, then the houses, then the pavements ran away in rivulets of grey. Slowly, the city dissolved.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wild & Improbable Tales – To The Edge Of The World

In quiet solitude they rowed for days. The world was drowned in an ocean of grey: a sea of shadow and light. Inky trees stretched up from the land around them towards the glowering slate sky; the steely surface of the water was disturbed only by their passing; the grey days faded into black night and back again, hazy white sun replaced by the crisp silver disk of the moon and her pinprick sister stars.

They saw not another soul.

Some would have filled the endless hours with chatter, but they spoke not a single word.

Most would have gone to shore every now and then, to rest their arms or sleep until the sun brought the singing dawn, but they continued on, never pausing.

Time became meaningless but it passed all the same. A quiet turning of the world and seconds filled with tiny infinities.

They paddled on, right to the edge of the world. And when the water dropped away below them and the land disappeared, they paddled still, beating steadily on into the eternal night, leaving their greyscale world behind and heading for the stars.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wild & Improbable Tales – Misstep

Every day she watched them pass. Those booted feet that sought the same path up the steps at the same time every single day, without fail.

She had no idea who they belonged to; they stepped in from the side, as if avoiding something, before carrying on up the seam in the stones and out of sight. She didn’t know where the steps led but they were her whole world: the only bit of life she knew of outside her cell.

No one else ever passed and she clung to the steady rhythm of their daily step as though they determined the very beat of her heart. They never came down the steps, only ever went up.

One day, without warning, as she strained to see their passing, they stopped – stock still – on the second step in her sight; they turned slowly on the step and, most unexpectedly, began to descend. Slowly, he was revealed: grey trousers; white shirt; brown hands balled at his side with a strip of red material poking out of the clenched fist; open collar; and finally a face, out of which a pair of startling, steel grey eyes bore straight through the window and into hers.

She watched with aching sadness as a single tear spilled onto his cheek before he was surrounded and hauled away.

Another friend lost.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wild & Improbable Tales – Summer’s Languor

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A gentle breeze rustling through the grasses and the distant shushing of waves on the beach were the only things to disturb the perfect quiet.

She meandered along the winding path down to the coast, trailing her fingers through the waving fronds that edged the sandy trail and closed her eyes, breathing deep the warm air and enjoying the heat of the afternoon sun on her eyelids. She loved these moments of solitude. The summer air trailed languorous fingertips over her skin, raising the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck with a whisper of sea-scented breath.

As the path disappeared into the dunes, she slid her feet from her sandals and stepped onto the gold, powdered sand. She felt the sun-warmed grains shift under her feet, as if urging her on to the sea. Emerging from the shelter of the dunes, the wind picked up. Her hair lifted on the current around her as her sinking footsteps carried her to the water’s edge, leaving a wandering trail behind her.

The ocean’s foam kissed her toes.

She stood in worshipful silence, cocooned in the world’s rapturous embrace, as white horses danced toward her, bringing the song of the sea.

 


 

“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wild & Improbable Tales – Paradise In Flames

Stepping out into the blistering heat, they walked with heads down, oblivious to their fellow travellers. They watched their steps, trying to avoid tripping and falling to the scorching ground below, and so did not see the creature that reared above them, cloaked in the poisonous fumes of their journey.

Heat rippled through the air. Shimmering waves of boiling atmosphere distorting the landscape until it seemed to shift and heave around them: almost alive.

They had dreamed of basking in the sun. After all, they deserved paradise. They deserved that long rest, surrounded by beauty, every need and want met.

Turning up their faces to absorb the warmth of the sun, they didn’t realise that the flames were all around them. They smiled, at first. And then they burned.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wild & Improbable Tales – Suit Up

No one saw it for what it really was. When they saw him striding the halls and directing their meetings, they assumed the freshly pressed suit and perfectly knotted tie were simply business dress.

They didn’t know that, when he got home at night and loosened that restrictive strip of fabric, the rest of him unraveled with it. They didn’t know that their confident, assertive leader shed his stoicism with the layers of expensive tailoring. They didn’t know the vulnerability of his true self; that whilst his head may be in the game his heart was in the clouds, yearning for the life of a wandering dreamer.

The daily struggle between expectation and longing was always hidden behind buzz words and neatly ordered spreadsheets. Until he was alone and free to dream, to marvel, to create, or sometimes to simply fall apart, as the world would never allow him to do in sight of his troops. The dreaming and marvelling and creating and falling took him to beautiful and terrible places, where he meandered all the night, until it was time to suit up his armour again. For he went not to work but to war.

If only they had known, they would have unraveled with him.

For The Joy Of It

For a long time I have been saying that I want to write. And for a long time, I haven’t. There are all sorts of reasons for that but mainly I never had the time. Which actually means I never made the time. I never made the time because sitting down to write felt like such an indulgence; there were always other things that I ‘should’ be doing. I never made the time because I was convinced I wasn’t actually any good at writing and so what was the point. I never made the time because I was scared: here was a thing I wanted, badly, to do well at. A thing I would love to make at least part of a career out of. But what if I tried and failed? By never actually doing it I could hold onto the daydream, writing odd snippets here and there, but never risking the possibility of discovering it was never meant to be.

You’d have thought I’d have learnt by now: dreams are worth the risk, and sometimes we should try just for the joy of it.

So I have started writing. Not quite daily at this point but more than ever before. I found the key was to let go a little of my fears and doubts; actually, not to do it in the hope that it would come to anything. Not to do it for anything or anyone. Just to write for me. Because I love it. I love the feeling of creating something that wasn’t in the world before. And when I approached it like that I found that the seeds of things that had been rattling round in my head started to grow. I wrote so many poems I stopped counting. And, even more joyfully, I started to write the story that has been in my mind for more years than I care to count.

I had an outline, written and rewritten over several years, and I had an opening to the story, which I wrote about a year ago, but nothing more. Because I stopped. I even liked what I had written, although it needed some editing, but in spite of my outline I just didn’t feel I knew what the story was, so I abandoned it. It was actually my students, and a couple of lovely friends, who encouraged me to pick it back up.

I run a creative writing class at the secondary school where I work (I know, a writer who doesn’t write teaching other people how to write…the irony is not lost on me) and for some time now my students have been asking to read something I had written. So one day I decided to be brave (and yes, it did take a lot of courage to do this – teens are nothing if not direct and, sometimes, brutal with their feedback) and share that opening chapter with them. I did it as part of a session on how to constructively critique other people’s work.

Firstly, I read some of their pieces and, as I always do, gave them feedback, this time trying to demonstrate my thought process: What did I really like and why? Tell them. What did I think had potential and how could it be developed? Tell them and make suggestions. What didn’t feel right in their narrative, why and what might make it feel better? Tell them but also enquire about their choices (as this might change the reading of it), explain why it didn’t feel quite right for me and work in partnership to see how it could be developed. It’s a lovely, collaborative process and the young writers I work with are so full of enthusiasm for writing, and so want to improve, that they are genuinely open to it and take on board feedback with interest and commitment to developing themselves, and their skills as writers. It’s inspirational to watch.

Next came the part where I had to be brave. Enthusiastic though they were to receive their own constructive criticism, they are often reluctant to give it to each other, usually deferring to me to do that part, purely because their class mates are also their friends and they were afraid of hurting one another’s feelings. Hence why I offered my work up as a guinea pig. I did tell a little white lie and assured them I was very used to receiving feedback of all kinds, positive and negative (not the case because I rarely share my writing other than what I post on here) and told them they should be very honest. I promised them my feelings would not be hurt if they didn’t like it (mostly true) and that their honest opinion was more important to me as a writer than any false praise they might want to give me. That was the truth. With a deep (internal) breath I gave them my opening chapter and pretended not to wait on tenter hooks as they read it.

The first person to finish looked at me and said possibly the best thing I could have been told: “It sounds like you, Miss.”

Now something sounding like me is not necessarily praiseworthy but what that meant to me was that she felt it was authentic. And that IS praiseworthy. Some of my fear fell away. Even if they didn’t like it, whatever I had written was true enough to myself that this student recognised me in it. I hadn’t even known that was important to me until that moment. As others finished reading they said they agreed, one commented that it “read like the colour red” – she couldn’t quite explain what she meant but it felt like a compliment! In fact the compliments came rolling in along with requests for the next chapter, please, and I had to steer them back to our critiquing framework. Flattering though the positive feedback was, I wanted their honest and thought out opinions. I wanted their ideas for improvement. And I got them. Tentatively, at first, but eventually with growing confidence they pointed out turns of phrase that resonated with them and ones that didn’t; they suggested alterations to vocabulary choices; they discussed certain sentence structures and whether they flowed as well as they could; they generally proved themselves to be the perfect first readers of my long locked away opening pages. (Well, not quite the first: my mum read them too.)

I made the alterations they suggested and since then not only have I shown those pages to two other people (both adults this time and one of whom, it turns out, is writing a book of his own – we did a pages swap!) but I also picked the story back up with gusto. I now have nearly ten thousand words of the story that has been tucked away for so long. On top of that, I also got up the courage to submit four of my poems to a publishing house, for consideration for an anthology. I have no idea if anything will come of that but it doesn’t matter, because I did it. I wrote the poems for me and I took the chance to share them. That is enough.

I am under no illusions that I will be the next J.K.Rowling. I have no idea whether any of my work will ever be published. But it turns out that it’s not the publishing that makes you a writer. It’s the writing. Just for the joy of it.

Any writers out there: what’s your work in progress? What stops you writing and how do you get over it?

Reach Out

It’s so close you can taste it. You can see the possibility solidifying into a reality, just a little way ahead, but it’s fragile: fuzzy and fluctuating like a mirage in the desert heat. But it’s there. You could make it real. You have to reach out and grasp hold of that dream. You have to pull it from that sacred space of imagination and daydreaming into the clear light of day. It may not materialise with one tug. It may take dozens. Hundreds. It may take all your strength and discipline not to let go. Not to give up and let it drift back into that distant and untouchable plain. It may not look exactly how you imagined if you manage to wrench it forth into the world. But you may also find that you can shape it and grow into it. If you want to make it real you’ll have to hold to it with everything you can. Breathe life into it.

Whatever you do, don’t be afraid if it. It’s your dream. Reach out and make it real.

Work-Life Imagined – Career Visioning

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We spend so much of our lives working. Sometimes we just take a job that will pay the bills but, if we are lucky, or if it is in our power to do so, we can create opportunities for career development that will enable us to earn a living doing something we love. I’ve been in both these situations and I’ve recently found myself, once again, considering what it is I really want to do. What do I want my working life to look like? Where do my passions and skills lie? How can I create the career and life I imagine for myself when I’m daydreaming? I decided I wanted to share a bit about my process for career visioning on here but I’m going to indulge in a bit of reflection on my career journey so far first. This may end up being a bit of a rambling brain dump to begin with (which is part of my process) but if you’re interested some steps for career visioning but not my personal career history, feel free to skip the first bit and scroll doooowwn!

 

From Front to House to Head of House

Whilst I was in college, I had a few different part time and temp jobs: waitress, sales assistant, admin temp, and dance teacher’s assistant. When I left college, not sure what I wanted to do with myself and in need of money for rent, I started my full-time working life as a receptionist/administrator, and had several different roles of this ilk with the same company. Along side these pay-the-bills jobs, I was volunteering with a few different youth groups and projects. I found that I loved working with young people and the variety of jobs in this area interested me, so I took the plunge and decided this was what I wanted to do. I started looking into qualifying as a youth worker and with the support of my friends, family, and colleagues, I decided to embark on a Youth Work degree with The Open University.

To this day, I consider this one of the best decisions I ever made. I was still working full time and studying independently around my working and volunteer hours. It was hard work and I knew it was going to be a long haul (6 years in total), but it was so interesting and rewarding, and the OU was such a great institution to study with, that I knew I’d made the right choice. When I reached the third year of my degree, however, I was faced with a conundrum: I had to be working a minimum of 16 hours per week face to face with young people in order to qualify. Fitting that number of volunteer hours around my full time job was going to be nigh on impossible. If I wanted to continue my degree, I had to find paid work with young people.

One of my degree mentors, who had become a great friend, knew of a job coming up for a Lead Youth Worker at an ecumenical youth work project. I thought I would never get it but she convinced me to apply and, to my great surprise and pleasure, I got the job. The next three years were challenging, fulfilling, and (mostly) the best kind of exhausting. But as I reached the end of my three year contract I was once again faced with impending career change. Youth work funding across the country was being pulled; projects and youth centres were closing left, right, and centre; and, much though I loved the job, all the evening and weekend work was taking a lot of my time away from my friends, family, and lovely fiancé. I decided I wanted to find a way to continue working with young people whilst also freeing up more time to spend with the people I loved, who were working ‘normal’ hours. And that’s how I ended up doing the one thing I always swore blind I would never do: working in a secondary school.

I had to get my 16 year old inner-self to pipe-down in order to pursue this path. In spite of the fact that I have always loved learning, I was not a fan of secondary school – the best day of my secondary school career was the day I left! But it was the obvious solution and I actually decided that it was perfect for me because it would give me the chance to make school a little bit better for the young people who, like me, did not enjoy being there. So after a lot of applications and a handful of interviews I secured a post as a pastoral head of house and I was thrilled. I was convinced this was it: the start of my actual career.

It didn’t quite pan out the way I expected.

Just one year into the job, I found myself in a very unhappy place. I was stressed to high heaven because the workload was so demanding; the emotional intensity of the role meant I was sleeping terribly and spending the majority of my evenings in tears or a high state of anxiety. There were things I loved about the job. I loved working with the students and being able to provide them with support that they struggled to find anywhere else. But I was coming to realise that this was not healthy for me and that I needed to make a change.

And that terrified me.

I had just come to the end of six years of hard work to graduate from my youth work degree, there were barely any youth work jobs around and I felt completely unable to continue in a school based pastoral role. What on Earth was I going to do?

The answer arrived in a somewhat serendipitous manner. The school I was working at was looking to introduce a new role: HLTA in English. I have always loved English as a subject, adored reading, and enjoyed writing for pleasure. I kept thinking this could be something I could do. Something I would enjoy. Something I might be good at. But the post was only temporary and I wasn’t technically qualified, having done nothing related to English since I left college, not having either a TA or HLTA qualification, and having no experience of providing academic support. However, the school had had two rounds of  unsuccessful interviews and when I expressed a passing interest to my Deputy Head he said to leave it with him whilst he mulled it over. After a bit of back and forth and several conversations which I won’t bore you with here, I was offered a one year secondment to the HLTA post. Nervous about a role that was very different to any I had done before but feeling I had nothing to lose (and excited at the prospect of a change from the emotionally draining pastoral role), I leapt at the chance and a few months later I took up the post.

This is the job I still hold today. It is the role I have held longer than any other in my working life. It has offered me more opportunities that I would have anticipated and I have LOVED the variety, challenge, and development I have experienced through it. In this role I have qualified as a HLTA, undertaken a nationally recognised leadership and management qualification with ILM, taken on an additional role as Whole School Literacy Coordinator, and worked with the most amazing team of people. I have been given a huge amount of freedom and flexibility to develop the role and experiment with new forms of intervention and academic support. It has had it’s ups and downs but this job has been the right one for me for a long time.

But lately, I’ve been itching for another change.

I find myself increasingly disillusioned with our education system. So many top-down changes and demands are forced on our schools and – with the best will in the world from passionate, dedicated, and talented staff – it feels increasingly difficult to instil a love of learning, and share passion for your subject in creative and engaging ways, as well as checking all the necessary boxes. That is a whole conversation in and of itself (and not one for right now) but I also find that I’m contemplating what other opportunities I want to pursue for myself, and whether I will be able to find them in this role.

And this is where career visioning comes in. (Finally, I hear you say!)

 

Imagine The Work-Life You Want

If, like me, you feel yourself wanting to make changes to your work life but not really being sure what you want that to look like, I suggest starting by reflecting on your own work/career journey so far, then using the prompts below to explore what you might want to change. Please note that I offer this only as a process that has been useful to me, and only as a starting point. I’m not a career or life coach, and I definitely don’t have the answer for reaching that dream – in fact I am still in the middle of figuring this all out for myself – but I found this helpful for reflection on my own career and in identifying possible areas I could pursue.

I sat down with pen and paper (computer, tablet or phone would work just as well) and considered the following:

  1. Identify the things in your current job (if any) that you enjoy – think about your team/company/area of focus as well as aspects of the job itself.
  2. Come up with ideas for how you would change your current role if you had the freedom and opportunity to do so – would you take on more responsibility? Less? Do the hours suit you or would you want more flexibility? Are there areas of your current role you’d like to be able to give more time to?
  3. List the things (in work or otherwise) that you would like to do more of – are there any skills or knowledge that you’d really like to pursue or develop? Do you have any hobbies that you secretly would like to be able to make a living out of?
  4. Daydream your ideal work scenario – what does your dream work life look like? Part-time? Self-employed? Moving to a bigger company? Working from home? Do you want to continue in the same area but a different role or do you want to do something completely different?

Take your time considering these areas and answering these questions. Maybe jot down initial ideas then leave it for a few days and come back to it: do you still feel the same? Has anything else occurred to you? Do this a couple of times. After you’ve allowed yourself time and space for reflection consider your gathered ideas and look for threads of connection.

Is there anything you’ve identified that you could develop in your current role? If so, consider talking to your colleagues or line manager about whether there might be the opportunity to pursue this as part of your professional development. If it seems like there is nothing in your current role you could develop, look for any crossover in your answers to the other questions. Are there any areas that clearly emerge as having captured your interest? Are there any career/job possibilities that spring to mind which would incorporate this?

 

From Daydream to Reality

Getting these ideas together is all well and good but what do you do with them now? This is the tricky bit, partly because everyone’s current reality, and everyone’s daydream, will look completely different. Maybe your daydream is only a few steps from your current reality and all you need to do is widen your network, pitch an idea to your boss, or explore undertaking a training that would help you achieve promotion. On the other hand, maybe your daydream is a world away from your current reality and achieving it will involve retraining, or even going back to school. I am well aware that for many people, pursuing a daydream career seems impossible.

Getting from A to B when you’ve got bills to pay, a family to provide for, or limited opportunities to undertake further training can seem like an unbridgeable gulf. I know myself to be very privileged when it comes to the opportunities I have had and continue to have, but even though I can see where I want to get to, I struggled to imagine how I might get there. I need the full time wage I currently earn and achieving my dream work-life seemed to require more time and/or money than I have to give.

I had to acknowledge that if this was something I truly wanted, I would have to be in it for the long haul. I would have to find a way to create small stepping stones to get across that gulf and accept that it might take years to reach my end goal, if I got there at all. So that is what I’m doing.

I don’t have the answer. I don’t know if I will get there. I’m not even sure exactly what my stepping stones will look like, although some are starting to take form in my mind. But I do know that, whether it works or not, I want to put my energy into trying to create the work-life I want for myself. I want to live by the words of Henry David Thoreau:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Have you achieved your dream work-life or ever gone through a career change? What helped you get there? Say hi in the comments and share any pearls of wisdom!

Happy dreaming.